Too much screen time has been linked to obesity and depression among people 18 and younger. But what about people 18 and older?
More research needs to be conducted on the health effects of electronic device usage on adults. But we know this for certain. Adults spend a lot of time staring at a screen — even more so during the pandemic. Time spent on smartphones, TVs, computers and video game consoles increased as people spent more time indoors.
“We know that too much of anything that puts a strain on your eyes is not good for your health,” says Vivian Tran, MD, an internal medicine physician at Scripps Clinic Mission Valley. “Excessive screen time can also result in headaches; neck, shoulder and back pain; and make it hard to fall asleep.”
Screen time can interfere with our mental and emotional health as well. Aside from taking time from in-person relationships, excessive screen time has been linked to depression and anxiety. In particular, social media can erode our self-worth and resilience.
Studies show many adults indulge in as many as 11 hours of screen time a day. In many cases, they have jobs that require viewing screens for eight hours or longer a day. Responding to emails 24/7 might seem like good business practice, but the health effects of too much screen time can decrease employee productivity. Fortunately, there are ways to limit screen time or its effects if it is interfering with your health and well-being.
Dr. Tran recommends a balanced approach where your average screen time isn’t taking away from other important activities, such as exercise.
5 ways to reduce the effects of screen time for adults
The following are tips to help you curb your time on an electronic device and develop healthy habits when screen time cannot be avoided:
1. Keep track of your screen time
During the pandemic, many adults worked from home, traveled less, did not dine out as much and turned to their screens more often to stay connected. But now that things are opening again, it may be a good time to take stock of your screen time and set screen limits.
Smartphones now have screen time functions that allow you to check your daily and weekly usage and make adjustments, such as setting usage limits for social media apps. If you set a limit, you’ll get a screen notification saying your time is up.
You can take back control of your screen time by checking how much time you are spending in front of the screen for something other than work or school and replace any unnecessary usage with non-screen activities, such as going out for a walk or a hike.
2. Avoid video fatigue
Spending time staring at a camera for long periods can make us uncomfortable and tired. If you’re spending a lot of time on video calls or virtual meetings, you could develop meeting or Zoom fatigue.
Try to limit the amount of time you spend on video calls to those that are necessary, or schedule time in between video calls so you can get up and move around. Instead of scheduling a 30-minute meeting, book just 25 minutes. If your workplace uses a shared online calendar, set business hours so your colleagues know when they can reach you.
3. Take regular breaks and stretch
If you work in front of a screen, make sure you take a break and look away at least every 20 minutes.
Stand up, stretch and move around. When you’re in your chair, back and neck stretches can help keep muscles loose.
Learn a few “chair yoga” moves and practice them for five minutes at frequent intervals throughout the day.
4. Stand up, sit less
If you have a way to transform your workspace into a standing desk for at least part of the day, consider doing it.
Standing desks are adjustable desks that allow you to stand up while working. They are becoming more popular and promote good health.
Standing, for example, lowers your risk of weight gain and obesity. “Remember, the fewer hours you spend sitting, the better,” Dr. Tran says.
If you’re on the phone a lot at work, get a headset and walk around when you talk on the phone.
5. Don’t eat in front of a screen
We tend to eat more when we’re watching TV or playing games. To combat that trend, designate separate mealtimes and stick to them. Banish snacks from the entertainment area.
If your job is onsite, get up from your workstation to eat outside.
Overcoming the emotional impacts of too much screen time
Resilience can help us bounce back from our “always on” digital lifestyle, and we all could benefit from strengthening our resilience skillset. Cigna is helping people in the greater San Diego area get stronger together, with mental health wellness support and tools available at StayWellSanDiego.com. For employers, the website includes resources designed for workplace wellness.